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Brets gave them all a message
Pat Putnam
May 28, 1973
John Chapman was puzzled. The little Canadian trainer-driver knew he had the best horse in last Saturday night's $122,732 Messenger Stakes at Roosevelt Raceway. The trouble was, he did not know which one. Was it J. R. Skipper, a speedy son of Meadow Skipper with a record of 17 victories in 27 starts? Or was it Valiant Bret, one of Bret Hanover's fleeter offspring who had got to the finish line first in 10 of 17 starts? "I dunno," said Chapman. "All I know is that it's one of them."
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May 28, 1973

Brets Gave Them All A Message

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When the additional pill arrived Steel Byrd drew No. 8, an unwelcome outside post. "You can't win them all," Winters said. Bret Over Again got the coveted inside post with Valiant Bret No. 3 and J. R. Skipper out in No. 7.

Unfortunately, no pills were drawn for Ricci Reenie Time, Armbro Nesbit or Faraway Bay, who were expected to be among this year's top 3-year-old pacers but who, for a variety of reasons, were not around for Saturday's final. It is said that Ricci Reenie Time is the best of them all but can't handle a half-mile track. Harold Dancer Jr., his trainer, denied this and claimed his star colt just was not yet ready. Faraway Bay escaped from a barn fire that killed six other horses in February, but suffered from smoke inhalation and has been slow to recover. Armbro Nesbit, a tremendously talented animal, is trying to surmount both a throat disorder and some dubious handling by Owner-Trainer-Driver Duncan MacDonald. The colt has raced with a fever, gone a full mile after pacing a solo :57[3/5] half-mile because everyone but MacDonald saw a recall signal, and was parked four wide to finish a gasping eighth in one of last week's eliminations. For his next act he may go blindfolded while pulling a Sherman tank.

No matter. Everyone has problems, and not the least of Chapman's was what to tell Fontaine, the super-substitute. First Chapman told him to have a breakfast of hot cereal, to take some vitamins and get a lot of rest, and that he would send a chauffeur to drive him to the track. Then he told Fontaine that Valiant could win wire to wire in two minutes.

"With his post position," Chapman said, "he's got every right to win. I hope I win, but if I don't I'll be rooting for him. It's a strange situation, but not an unhappy one."

Fontaine himself said, "There isn't much a trainer can tell me. I'm a professional. I do what I think is best in a race. I expect people to respect my ability. I don't like anyone telling me how to drive a race. John said I can put this horse out in front and win from there and that's what I'll be trying to do."

And that's what he did, in 2:00[3/5]. As expected, Bret Over Again, the second choice in the betting, took the early lead from his No. 1 post position, but almost as quickly lost it to Valiant Bret. After that everyone played and lost a game of catch-up. Whatever chance Chapman had was dispatched when he twice got caught up in a tangle with long shot Dana Lobell, once just after the start and again in the backstretch. He did well to finish third by a neck behind Bret Over Again, three-quarters of a length behind his entry mate.

When Fontaine went into the winner's circle to pick up the trophy and the check for the largest purse he had ever won, $61,366.25, the crowd of 28,207, which thought, wrongly, that he had cut off Bret Over Again near the finish, gave him a standing, ah, booing. He was stunned.

"I didn't know whether they were booing me or the guy giving me the trophy," he said with a slight grin. "Maybe they just think I jumped in at the last minute and stole the race. But catch driving is my profession. I'm supposed to jump in and win races."

"Ah, them turkeys," said Del Insko, who had driven Steel Byrd to a fifth-place finish. "They boo and you can never figure out why." For fifth place, by the way, the Messenger paid $6,136.62. That is not a bad payoff for reading the fine print.

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